Automating IT infrastructure amid COVID-19
The pandemic and the resulting economic downturn has made the business case for IT automation clearer than ever and it continues to prove especially important for building resilience in our supply chains. Without extensive automation, it wouldn’t be possible for essential goods from online retailers to get into the hands of consumers at the scale and speed we currently need.
Likewise, automation has supported businesses across many industries in transitioning to remote working, which has proven essential to supply chain continuity amid the crisis. For example, it has allowed operations and security teams to install VPN clients across millions of remote worker’s devices, enabling a smoother and safer transition to a work-from-home model.
New contexts for automation
One of the first and most common use cases for IT automation is in the configuration of computing resources and operating systems, and the provisioning of line-of-business applications. From there, IT automation has evolved to address a significant broader spectrum of processes and tasks. For example, today, some automation engines can be used to set up network devices like routers and switches, rapidly cutting down the time it takes to integrate hardware into business functions like warehouses digitalisation or freight tracking.
Automation can also serve the needs of cybersecurity professionals in unexpected, new ways. Today, CISOs can use certain IT automation solutions to integrate a variety of security products in their portfolio, and to orchestrate how those products jointly perform a triage investigation or an attack remediation. The increased speed in addressing a cyber attack that IT automation can provide is invaluable for a security operations team, often understaffed and overwhelmed by the amount of alerts that a large IT enterprise environment normally generates.
How to approach automation
Automating business processes and operations that have been carried on for years or decades in a manual way can be intimidating or discouraging. One way to address that complexity is to break a big process down into multiple small, more manageable tasks, and focus on those ones that are the easiest to automate; the proverbial low hanging fruit.
Adopting this approach in a disciplined way, an IT organisation can eventually build the foundation necessary to automate its operations. It’s not just a matter of having the right pieces in the right place. This approach helps build the experience in automation and the team’s confidence, which is necessary to succeed.
As an additional benefit, by the time you approach the largest projects, your team should be at the point where they realize and appreciate the value of infrastructure and process standardisation, which enormously helps any automation project. In fact, while standardisation is a critical building block for automation at scale, attempting a massive standardisation before learning how to automate even the simpler tasks can often lead to project failure.
Appointing an internal chief automation architect to have overall responsibility of the automation project is paramount to success. Without someone very familiar with the many processes that govern your organisation, you will lack the oversight necessary to use automation strategically, rather than just as a tactical tool.
How to develop your expertise
If your organisation doesn't have a great deal of experience in automating IT processes, it’s perfectly appropriate to turn to your industry peers for knowledge. Many automation platforms have online marketplaces, which host a vast array of workflows to automate common tasks and applications. Take the time to review the workflows that others have already contributed, and evaluate whether they’re applicable to your IT environment.
Some automation platforms, especially if they derive from popular open source projects, also play host to large communities, which can provide a great network for support and advice. Interact with these communities to discover what is the real total cost of ownership and learning curve for these platforms, and what are the best practices to integrate them into your operations. There are many other organisations in your position, so pooling knowledge is a very effective way to help make this transition.
Businesses have continued to adopt automation during the pandemic as a way to support business continuity, and this has been particularly crucial for logistics and supply chain companies. But it’s important to note that this is far from a temporary trend; automation has been one of the propellers of digital transformation well before COVID-19 and will continue to serve as a vital technology for the industry’s IT operations well after the crisis ends.
Improving Skill Initiatives in Technology Businesses in 2021
According to Tech Nation’s most recent , UK technology companies now employ more than 2.93 million people, with the sector seeing a 40% growth in the last two years. The new world of work and the uptick in digitalisation caused by the pandemic with the mass uptake of digital services and online communications has meant that the technology sector has seen a huge demand for specific skills across the job market.
Whilst many businesses have done well to adapt to the digital transformation witnessed over the last few years, this rapid advancement of technology has also resulted in widespread difficulties recruiting experienced tech employees. McKinsey reported that over of organisations have reported huge digital skills gaps, which suggest that whilst most tech businesses are aware of and actively trying to tackle these issues, many are struggling to do so effectively.
To remain competitive and overcome this shortage of skilled workers, technology businesses must look at how they can upskill current employees, move employees to new areas of the business, and ensure their technology talent is as up to date as possible.
So how can tech businesses stay ahead of the skills curve this year?
Make an inventory of desired skills – and offer training for them
To introduce effective skilling programmes within technology businesses, management teams should identify and agree on skills that the business is in greatest need of – both in the immediate and longer terms.
Over the past three years, demand for tech skills such as AI, cyber and cloud automation has with AI and cyber in particular growing by 44% and 22% year on year, respectively, from 2019. For many tech businesses, these skills will continue to be desirable for the business to progress, and senior leadership teams must agree on what skills the business wants to prioritise in its workforce.
Next, management teams should then look to create an inventory of these desired skills and also identify what job roles need to be introduced to further this expertise within the business. This can be done through hiring external candidates or even introducing a programme that current employees can take to develop these particular skills.
This technique requires technology businesses to be malleable in their approach, and they can therefore look to introduce training that builds on these skills gaps or even move employees around the business to utilise their existing skills in areas that are most needed.
Incentivise the workforce
Finally, a good way to develop the skills available amongst the workforce in a technology business is to ensure employees are excited about the prospect. If new candidates and existing members of the team feel included in the approach, can see a benefit in taking additional training and feel motivated to further their own career progression, this could be the tech companies’ strongest asset.
For example, companies such as Amazon have set the bar for investing in reskilling and upskilling to keep their entire workforce motivated and, most importantly, up-to-speed. As many people join Amazon, some without any previous educational qualifications to some possessing PHDs, the business’s skilling programme is provided to give all employees the skills they need to either move up at Amazon or move on to a qualified position outside of the company. By offering this training, employees are motivated to think of their own career and future, and Amazon has the benefit of seeing the operational and financial benefits of a skilled, engaged workforce.
According to recent research completed by , software development, cloud migration and project management experience are top of the list for hiring managers in 2021, with tech-specific skills being some of the most in-demand across all sectors. The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated this increased demand for technology skills and talent, and industry leaders are at a pivotal stage to ensure their workers’ skills sets are up-to-date and being utilised effectively within the business.
For tech businesses that wish to attract this new talent as well as keeping current employees engaged and competitive within the industry, bosses must not only incentivise their workers with skilling programmes, but they must work to identify what skills they are in most need of and then put the necessary training programmes in place.